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Dingwell v. Cossette

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

June 7, 2018

CHRISTOPHER DINGWELL, SR., Plaintiff,
v.
JEFFRY COSSETTE, JOHN WILLIAMS, CITY OF MERIDEN, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION ON MOTION TO DISMISS [DKT. 25]

          HON. VANESSA L. BRYANT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Christopher Dingwell, Sr. (“Plaintiff” or “Dingwell, Sr.”) brings this First Amendment retaliation civil rights case, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against Defendants the City of Meriden (“City”), Chief of Police Jeffrey Cossette (“Police Chief Cossette”), and Detective John Williams for various retaliatory actions allegedly taken against him for publicly criticizing the Meriden Police Department (Police Department"). Defendants have filed a Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. For the following reasons, this motion is DENIED.

         Background

         The City is a political subdivision of the State of Connecticut under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-557n(a)(1) and has a police department as provided by the Meriden Charter. [Dkt. 21 (Am. Compl.) ¶¶ 5-6]. Police Chief Cossette was employed by the City and entitled to appoint officers and employees of the Police Department. See Id. ¶ 8. Detective Williams was the President of the Meriden Police Union at all times relevant to this case. See Id. ¶ 4. The Amended Complaint alleges all Defendants “were charged with the preservation of the public peace, prevention of crime, apprehension of criminals, regulation of traffic, protection of the rights of persons and property and enforcement of the laws of the state and the ordinances of the City of Meriden, and all rules and regulations made in accordance therewith.” Id. ¶ 9. The Police Department maintains a Facebook page on which the public can post comments. During all relevant instances, Detective Williams and Police Chief Cossette were acting within the scope of their employment and all Defendants were acting under the color of state law. See Id. ¶¶ 10-11.

         Mr. Dingwell, Sr. is a resident of the City and he has a son named Christopher Dingwell, Jr. (“Dingwell, Jr.”). See Id. ¶¶ 1-2. He describes himself as a “concerned citizen and taxpayer” of the City who “engaged in speech” to “bring to light inefficiencies and inadequacies to further transparency between the police and the people they serve and protect.” Id. ¶ 12.

         One of Mr. Dingwell, Sr.'s strategies was to publicly post criticisms on the Police Department Facebook page, and on an undisclosed date he was blocked from posting. See Id. ¶¶ 13-14. The American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”) contacted the Police Department on his behalf, see Id. ¶ 15, but the Amended Complaint does not indicate his access was restored. From 2014 on, Mr. Dingwell, Sr. informed members of the local press corps about Police Department's irregularities. See Id. ¶ 17.

         In January 2015, Mr. Dingwell, Sr. became aware that two firearms were possibly missing from the Meriden Police Department armory. See Id. ¶ 18. On unspecified dates, he called and texted Larue Graham of the Public Safety Committee and Mayor Kevin Scarpetti; he notified the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, & Firearms (“ATF”); and he reported the issue to the State Police. See Id. ¶ 19-22. He also reported the incident to a Meriden newspaper, the Record Journal, which published the story; the Police Department stated “in explicit terms” that it “was angry with him for leaking the story to the public.” Id. ¶ 28-29. The date of this incident is unknown as well.

         On November 9, 2015, an officer stopped Mr. Dingwell, Sr. for speeding and having impermissibly tinted windows. See Id. ¶ 23. Mr. Dingwell, Sr. disputed both issues and the ticket was ultimately thrown out. See id.

         In early March 2016, Mr. Dingwell, Sr. was asked to meet an officer of the Meriden Police Department in a parking lot. See Id. ¶ 24. The Amended Complaint alleges the unnamed officer warned him that the Meriden Police Department would “go after his family if necessary” if he did not abandon pursuit of the missing firearms story. See Id. On March 26, 2016, Mr. Dingwell's son was a passenger in a car that was pulled over by the Meriden police. See Id. ¶ 30. Mr. Dingwell, Jr. was arrested and charged with possession of a facsimile firearm, possession of a weapon in a motor vehicle, tampering with evidence, carrying a dangerous weapon, and conspiracy to carry a dangerous weapon. See Id. ¶ 31.

         On March 27, 2016, Detective Williams sent Police Chief Cossette an email with the subject: Chris Dingwell. See [Dkt. 21 ¶ 30]. Detective Williams stated, “As Union President, I am respectfully requesting that the Police Department complete a press release for distribution tomorrow to not only our local press but our Facebook as well” regarding the arrest of Mr. Dingwell, Jr. of which “during the stop Chris Dingwell[']s . . . son threw a facsimile firearm out of the car.” [Dkt. 23].[1] The email also states the following:

More importantly is the fact that Chris Dingwell is one of the most outspoken citizens against this Administration and Department. Yet, here is the second of his two kids who are criminals and creating crime in our City. This case should be exploited for what it is, not only excellent work on the part of our men and women of this agency but the fact that this is the guy who touts his inner knowledge and workings of the Police Department and has an association with a rat or two from within our Department. Yet he does . . . nothing to make this Community better and instead has created drama for the real citizens of this City.

Id. Dingwell, Jr.'s arrest was published on the Police Department Facebook page, the Record Journal, and other news outlets. See [Dkt. 21 ¶¶ 32-34].

         Several months later on September 6, 2016, Mr. Dingwell, Sr. spoke at a City Council meeting and criticized the Police Department's lack of transparency. Id. ¶ 40. When he entered, an unnamed officer told him to “keep quiet and lay low during the meeting.” Id. ¶ 42. He nonetheless raised issues with (a) increased gang violence; (b) a nine-day delay on publicly reporting a murder; (c) the misplacement of a gun resulted in a defendant to “walk”; and (d) his request that Police Chief Cossette be fired. See Id. ¶ 41.

         Mr. Dingwell, Sr. thereafter sent emails to “officials” of the Police Department about public safety concerns. Id. ¶ 43. On November 15, 2016, Detective Williams responded to one of his emails and stated that “[a]ny further emails from you to me that are not official City business will be followed up with a Criminal investigation.” Id. ¶ 45.

         In December 2016, Mr. Dingwell, Sr. learned that a security detail had been placed on him. See Id. ¶ 49. He then “became afraid to engage in public speech” against the Meriden Police Department. Id. ¶ 50. An internal investigation about Captain Patrick Gaynor (“Captain Gaynor”) was published in April 2017, and the content of the investigation revealed conversations between Captain Gaynor and Mr. Dingwell, Sr. were monitored. See Id. ¶ 51-53. An excerpt of the internal investigation was submitted by Defendants and indicates Captain Gaynor was determined by a preponderance of the evidence to have engaged in violations of the Police Department Rules and Regulations, some of which appear to be related to Captain Gaynor allegedly giving internal Meriden Police Department information to Mr. Dingwell, Sr. See generally [Dkt. 25-2 (Mot. Dismiss Ex. A)].

         Legal Standard

         To survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the Court should follow a “two-pronged approach” to evaluate the sufficiency of the complaint. Hayden v. Paterson, 594 F.3d 150, 161 (2d Cir. 2010). “A court ‘can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.'” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). “At the second step, a court should determine whether the ‘wellpleaded factual allegations, ' assumed to be true, ‘plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.'” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (internal quotations omitted).

         In general, the Court's review on a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) “is limited to the facts as asserted within the four corners of the complaint, the documents attached to the complaint as exhibits, and any documents incorporated by reference.” McCarthy, 482 F.3d at 191. The Court may also consider “matters of which judicial notice may be taken” and “documents either in plaintiffs' possession or of which plaintiffs had knowledge and relied on in bringing suit.” Brass v. ...


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